By Benedict Mander

Published: August 19 2008 22:23 | Last updated: August 19 2008 22:23

Venezuela has expropriated the local assets of Mexico’s Cemex after failing to agree about compensation, as President Hugo Chávez continues to take control of “strategic” sectors of the economy.

Mr Chávez unexpectedly announced the nationalisation of the cement industry in April, although France’s Lafarge and Switzerland’s Holcim managed to reach agreement about compensation by Monday’s deadline.

Medvedev bolsters links with US foe - Sep-26Court case throws up tales of intrigue - Sep-26Chávez strengthens oil ties with China - Sep-24Russia-Venezuela moves stir cold war ghosts - Sep-22Venezuela expels two rights activists - Sep-20Chávez accused of exploiting 2002 coup - Sep-19Mr Chávez argued the takeovers were necessary to solve serious housing shortages and to boost state infrastructure projects. He described the nationalisation as one of many “steps toward socialism,” which also included taking over telecommunications and electricity companies, the country’s largest steelmaker, third largest bank and important oil projects.

Although deals were reached to buy 89 per cent of Lafarge’s local unit for $267m (€180m, £140m) and 85 per cent of Holcim’s unit for $552m, Cemex’s demand for $1.3bn was “way, way above” the value of its plants, said Rafael Ramírez, energy minister. “We respect private interests. But no private interest can be above the interests of the people.”

Mr Chávez accused the cement companies of exporting their products amid scarcity in the domestic market, as well as selling “the most expensive [cement] in the world”, with the region’s highest production costs. He also said lack of investment had left it with outdated and environmentally harmful technology.

On Monday Venezuela reached an agreement to pay the Argentine steel conglomerate Ternium $1.65bn for a 50 per cent stake in steelmaker Sidor, in which it will retain a 10...

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